EDITOR’S NOTE: In commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, Waxahachie resident Pam Wilhoite has written a two part series of historical facts relating to the War Between the States.
• Part One of Two
At dawn on July 5, 1864, more than 300 women and children arrived on foot at the three Roswell, Georgia mills to begin their 11-hour work day.
War had not yet come to Roswell, but they knew the Union soldiers were near. What they did not know was their lives were about to change dramatically.
Established in the 1830s, the Roswell Manufacturing Company by 1860 included two cotton mills and the Ivy Woolen Mill. Owned by Barrington King, the mills served as Confederate contractors. The mills monthly produced 191,000 yards of cotton fabric, tenting and rope. Ivy produced 30,000 yards of fine“Roswell Grey” wool used in Confederate uniforms.
Early in the war, many of the area men enlisted in the Roswell Guards and fought at Manassas. The Confederate Congress exempted mill management and skilled workers from military service in 1862, but the law was repealed in early 1864.
In June 1863, the remaining mill workers, age 16 to 60, formed the Roswell Battalion to help protect northern Georgia.
After the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman planned to move on toward Atlanta, but the Chattahoochee River stood in the way. One of the best ways to cross the river was on a 600 foot bridge near Roswell.
Sherman’s primary interest was this bridge and not the industrial capacity of the town.
As Sherman pushed into the area, the town people became frightened. The owners of the mills made plans to evacuate. Barrington King decided to keep the mills running until the last hour. He instructed his supervisors to stay “as long as possible – the hands all at work.”
The wealthy town people loaded every wagon available and headed to Atlanta.
On Independence Day, 1864, Sherman ordered the Second U.S. Cavalry under General Kenner D. Garrard toward Roswell. At 11 o’clock on the next morning, the Roswell Battalion was ordered to leave town, burning the bridge over the Chattahoochee behind them.
Garrard’s advance guard arrived moments later, but was unable to save the bridge. Frustrated, Garrard sent a regiment out to burn paper mills, flour mills and machine shops in the area.
When the Federals arrived at the Ivy Woolen Mill, they found it in full operation.
Theophile Roche’, a weaver and friend of the King family, had raised a French flag over the mill. Roche’ claimed to be a subject of France, demanded his rights as a neutral, and requested respect for the workers and the mill property. With no orders regarding the woolen mill, the Union soldiers left.
The next morning, Garrard arrived to inspect the mill himself. Inside, he moved through the carding and spinning rooms.
Upon entering the weave room, Garrard immediately saw on the web of one of the 216 looms, the initials CSA woven in the fabric.
So much for neutrality. The Union soldiers ordered all workers to evacuate the building and assemble in the town square within an hour. The Ivy Mill was then torched. The process was repeated at the nearby cotton mills.
By evening, more than 300 workers and their families were crowded into the town square. Exhausted and bewildered, they tried to sleep. There they would remain several days huddled together in rain and sun, guarded continually by Union soldiers.
Upon receiving Garrard’s report, Sherman was surprised to learn that the mills were still operating. He had assumed that the owners would have moved the equipment before the arrival of Union troops.
Sherman replied to Garrard, “Their utter destruction is right and meets my entire approval. And to make the matter complete you will arrest the owners and employees and send them, under guard, charged with treason to Marietta.”
He also gave Garrard permission to hang Roche’ if he desired. On Friday morning, July 8, Union soldiers moved into Roswell and camped on the grounds of beautiful Barrington Hall, the home of mill owner Barrington King.
The first wagons filled with Roswell mill workers arrived in Marietta, Georgia on July 9. They had ridden through the night over 16 miles of rough roads. Upon arrival they were taken to the Georgia Military Institute where they were housed in the classrooms.
Union General Thomas notified Sherman of the workers’ arrival and requested what to do with them.
Sherman replied, “I have ordered General Webster in Nashville to dispose of them. They will be sent to Indiana.”
Train loads of refugees were shipped north by July 15. During the trip, Union soldiers offered the workers freedom, if they would sign an oath of allegiance to the United States. The remainder would be placed in a Louisville, Kentucky prison.
An Indiana newspaper reported that almost 100 of the refugees in “deplorable and destitute condition” arrived in Evansville by July 19. One of the mill workers later remembered hearing a Union soldier state, “Indiana’s bursting at the seams and no one in this motley, disloyal group will add anything good to the state.”
In Louisville, at least 219 were marched to a two-story frame building surrounded by a tall wooden fence. The workers now realized they really were prisoners.
An overwhelming stench greeted the workers. Dozens of families crowded into each small room and were required to sleep on the floor without bedding.
Measles ran rampant.
By late August the citizens were concerned about welfare of their city and of the refugees. The editor of the Louisville Daily Journal pleaded for funds to help the “distress, destitution, and suffering” of the Southerners.
Louisville formed a commission to assist with emergencies and to help transport workers on to other places where they might find employment.
During the last years of the war, General Sherman believed that if he shipped everyone who supported the Southern cause north of the Ohio River he would strip the Confederacy of civilian aid and reduce the chance of sabotage of his troops.
He was also convinced that there would be employment available for the Roswell mill workers. Many of the families took the oath and traveled at government expense across the river in hope of finding work.
However, few mill jobs were actually available at the Indiana mills. Most struggled to meet their most basic needs.
As the war came to a close, the mill workers were scattered across Kentucky and Indiana. What actually happened to them is unknown.
Southern legend states that none of them ever returned to Georgia. However, research of the last few decades indicates that some of the families returned while many stayed in the North.
(To be continued next Sunday).
Pam Wilhoite, a retired CPA, is immediate past president of Parsons’ Rose in Waxahachie and currently coordinates the Daily Light’s “Spotlight on History” project. She is the recipient of the Varina Howell Davis Award from the Military Order of the Stars and Bars and the Lucy Pickens Award given by the Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. For more information, visit www.omroberts.com or www.tsocr.org.